Years ago, a reader mentioned (while I was doing the SNAP challenge for my masters program) that one of her favorite inexpensive meals was a stir fry of rice and lentils with a peanut butter sauce. It sounded simple and delicious, and it became the inspiration for this dish, which is now a weeknight favorite.
The suggestion, and the meal that it resulted in, had a domino affect. Various combinations of skillet-warmed rice and lentil dinners have become a staple in my home. It’s the bean, grain, and green meal template idea, with lentils as the bean. I like to vary the lentils I use (brown, green, beluga), try different spices and seasonings, and play around with sauces and dressings to top it with. Dinners don’t really get more nutritious, cost-effective, or easy, especially if I’ve cooked the rice and lentils ahead of time, or if I’m using canned lentils. (These days, honestly, I often am.)
This not-recipe recipe is just another variation on the combination I like so much. I wouldn’t call this mujaddara, since it doesn’t come close to having that dish’s deeply caramelized onions or socarrat (the delightfully crispy rice at the bottom of the pan). But mujaddara is a loose source of inspiration for the meal. I don’t caramelize the onions that go into the recipe, but I do brown them a bit more than I usually would. And I add cumin and coriander, which are characteristic Middle Eastern spices, if not included in all mujaddara recipes.
I like to top earthy dishes like this one with a bright, tart dressing. The dressing that probably gets more love than any other in Power Plates is my Everyday Lemon Tahini Dressing; the title is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. I make a batch of it nearly every week, and once it’s made I use it almost daily. Here, it adds just the right creaminess and acidity to balance the savoriness of onions and spices. And as an added bonus, it can be whisked together in minutes.
I love using rice here, but the dish would work with farro, barley, bulgur, or even millet. Whatever you choose, it’s worth having the grain or the lentils are both prepared ahead of time if you’d like dinner to come together in just minutes.
As far as serving goes, I sometimes add a few wedges of whole wheat pita to the plate so that I can scoop up every last bite of the mixture (and whatever dressing is on the plate!). You can serve the lentils and rice as a side dish, along with a big salad and some grilled or baked tofu or tempeh, or you could make it a main dish along with some veggies: roasted beets, broccoli, and cauliflower all work really nicely with it! It’s also lovely with a cup of soup at this time of year; I especially like to have it with this carrot soup (chickpeas optional, since there’s plenty of legume action going on here already).
My new rotation of the dietetic internship has begun, and since I started with low energy, I’ve kept my meal prep humble and streamlined in the last week and a half. This dish has been a perfect addition to the mix (the leftovers are pretty great hot or cold, though with freezing temperatures in NYC right now, the hotter the better).
I hope you’ll find it easy and appealing, too—and I’m wishing you all a great week ahead.